UCT brings biomechanics conference to Africa

31 October 2006

UCT and Cape Town will host the 22nd International Society of Biomechanics (ISB) congress in July 2009, beating off bids from Brazil, Denmark and the Netherlands.

Letters supporting the bid were written by Cape Town Mayor Helen Zille, UCT's Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Professor Njabulo S Ndebele, and the CEO of Cape Tourism, Noki Dube. The ISB executive council used ten separate criteria in their selection, with Cape Town leading in six of these categories.

Biomechanics is the study of the body in terms of its mechanical structure and properties. Locomotion of the body is one of the more important aspects to which the mechanical laws are applied for study.

Although the biomechanics community in South Africa is relatively small in world terms, they have a core of dedicated scientists, engineers and clinicians who have made important contributions to the field. Two South Africans have had the honour of serving as president of the ISB: UCT's Professor Kit Vaughan (1999-2001) and Dr Brian Davis (2005-2007).

It has been the winning combination of Vaughan, director of the UCT MRC/Medical Imaging Research Unit in the Department of Human Biology, and Davis, UCT alumnus in mechanical and biomedical engineering (now based at the Cleveland clinic in the US), who decided to take the innovations of biomechanics into other parts of Africa.

Vaughan, along with postgraduate students Andrea Hemmerich (Canada), Nelleke Langerak (Holland) and Jacques Gay (South Africa), recently trained two Tanzanian lecturers from the Tanzanian Training Centre for Orthopaedic Technologists (TATCOT) to operate a six-camera kinematic analysis system.

This system tracks movement in three dimensions (3D). The students taught them about gait analysis (the study of human walking), which is crucial to the fitting of prostheses for patients (such as amputees), and also how to run the system.

The initial objective of TATCOT was to train and qualify technical orthopaedic professionals within East Africa. TATCOT now represents a supra-regional training centre that offers accredited courses and is recognised by both the International Society for Prosthetics and Orthotics and the World Health Organisation. In late 2005, UCT purchased a replacement camera system (now also used to study the bowling action of top cricketers) and the company supplying the new cameras gave UCT a discount based on a trade-in of old cameras.

Vaughan contacted a UCT alumnus who now works for Vicon, Dudley Tabakin (who was the original engineer that ran the biomechanics lab at SSISA), and he persuaded Vicon to allow UCT to donate the old camera system to TATCOT.

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